Scribd books

It was only a matter of time until books got the Netflix treatment, becoming available to “purchase” on an all-you-can-eat subscription basis with an access-over-ownership model. Last month saw the launch of Oyster, which lets readers subscribe to a list of more than 100,000 books for $9.95 a month on their iPhones (with more devices to follow). Today, Scribd is undercutting Oyster by offering all-you-can-read book subscriptions for $8.99 a month across multiple devices.

Like Oyster, the new Scribd service offers digital discovery via hand-curated and algorithmically driven recommendations, as well as social sharing mechanisms, which tap into the existing Scribd userbase. So, if you’re a subscriber, your social feed on Scribd will now show the subscription books people are reading, among other documents and titles.

Like Oyster, Scribd is launching with HarperCollins as a major-publisher partner, along with “dozens” of other publishers, including the independent Kensington, Workman, and Rosetta Books. Scribd gets access to HarperCollins’ back catalogue, earning the right to offer them through the service a year after each title has first go on sale.

The company isn’t disclosing how many books are available on the service, which is global. Co-founder and CEO Trip Adler says the company prefers to focus on quality over quantity. Titles available at launch include Paulo Coehlo’s “The Alchemist,” a range of books by Neil Gaiman, and Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.”

Oyster, by contrast, appears to have more publishers on board, including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and gets access to titles three months after they go on sale in the physical world. At its launch, the company offered more than 100,000 titles, including ones from Random House imprints Knopf Canada and Mclellan & Stewart, which were apparently unannounced launch partners. Many of those titles, however, may have come from its deal with self-publishing outfit Smashwords.

An advantage Scribd has over Oyster right now, however, is that it is available on multiple platforms, with the ability to sync books via the cloud across devices. Today, you can subscribe to and read Scribd books in a browser, on its mobile website, through iOS and Android apps, and on the Nook and Kindle Fire.

Scribd’s book subscription service has actually been available to paying Scribd subscribers on the down-low since January. The company had just never announced the offering, nor had a dedicated web page for it. The HarperCollins partnership was only revealed today.

Publishers such as HarperCollins get paid through the service each time one of their books is read by a subscriber. Scribd determines whether or not a book has been “read” by considering how many pages a reader has looked at and how much time is spent on each page.

CEO Adler says the company has high hopes for the service and sees it as a major line of revenue in the future. While not revealing any subscriber numbers, he says the service has seen growth of 60 percent per month since January.

“We just think that the market is really ripe for this kind of opportunity,” Adler says. Juniper Research has forecast that ebook sales to mobile devices will reach $9.7 billion by 2016.

San Francisco-based Scribd, founded in 2006, is perhaps most well-known for its document-embedding service, which has proven a popular way to distribute the likes of court filings, company memos, and contracts via websites. Adler says Scribd won’t be abandoning the documents part of its business, but the majority of its resources will now go towards books. Eventually, it will also offer the ability the embed books accessed via the subscription package in third-party websites.

Says Adler: “We see ourselves as the library of the future, and the library of the future is going to be more than just books.”